Abu Hamza left Egypt for London in 1979, aged 21, putting his civil engineering studies on hold to work as a nightclub bouncer in the capital. He rose to prominence as Britain’s most radical preacher, delivering extremist sermons from his Finsbury Park mosque in London. His fiery rhetoric, missing eye and prosthetic hooked hand made him a striking bogeyman for the security services and the media.
Born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa in Alexandria, Egypt, on 15 April 1958, he is the son of a naval officer and a primary school headmistress. He acquired British citizenship through his marriage to an Englishwoman, Valerie Fleming. The marriage did not last, but Abu Hamza was settled in Britain. He gained a civil engineering degree from Brighton Polytechnic and one of his first major contracts took him to the Royal Military Training Academy at Sandhurst, where both the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry would later train.
For Abu Hamza as many others, the Iranian revolution and the mujahideen campaign against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan marked a turning point. In 1987, he travelled to meet the founder of the Afghan mujahideen, Abdullah Azzam. He claimed to have been asked to join al-Qaida on its formation in 1989, but told his trial that he disagreed with the terrorist group’s ideology.
Four years later, according to Hamza, he suffered the injuries that forced him to use a prosthetic hooked hand and a glass eye – although accounts of when, how and where the incident took place have varied. He claimed the injuries were inflicted in Lahore in 1993 when an experiment involving liquid explosives – which he was carrying out as part of a mysterious roads project for the Pakistani military – went badly wrong.
He claimed to have been holding a bottle containing nitro-benzine for use in a device when it was detonated accidentally. “I see it getting hot, I went to throw it in the bathroom, but somebody was standing by the sink,” Hamza told his trial at the federal court in lower Manhattan this month. “I didn’t know how much time I had. I didn’t know how dangerous it was. I just wanted to get rid of it. And it just went off.” He was in and out of a coma for a time and returned to London for treatment.
In 1997, he arrived at Finsbury Park mosque in north London. The failed shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the US over the 9/11 attacks, both attended his preachings, which would attract the attention of MI5.
In 1998, Abu Hamza was linked to the violent kidnapping of 16 western tourists by jihadists in Yemen. He was questioned by Scotland Yard on suspicion of alleged bomb plots in the Aram country, whose secular government accused him of recruiting Islamist warriors to the fundamentalist cause.
An attempt to extradite him failed and he was able to tighten his grip on the Finsbury Park mosque. He described the invasion of Iraq as a “war against Islam”, claimed 9/11 was a Jewish plot, and called the Columbia space shuttle disaster a “punishment from Allah” because Christian, Jewish and Hindu astronauts were aboard. On the first anniversary of 9/11, he co-organised a meeting at the mosque praising the hijackers.
When anti-terror police raided the building in 2003, Abu Hamza led prayers on the streets outside. In February 2006, he was jailed for seven years for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. After a nine-year legal fight that reached the European court of human rights, he was extradited to the US in 2012.
On Monday, he was convicted of terrorism offences following a five-week trial held less than a mile from Ground Zero. He now faces a life term in prison when he is sentenced on 9 September.